“Robot: a machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions automatically.”
Robots and automatons are a staple of science fiction, but in the age of AI, internet, and virtual reality, it’s nice to get an updated take (or several) on the sub-genre.
My only complaint about this collection is that sci-fi (and fantasy) is a difficult genre to do justice to in short story format. There’s not enough space for world building, so the writers have to either take shortcuts – use a familiar-ish kind of setting – or as sadly too often happens here, leave the reader a little frustrated with the brevity of the whole thing. But hey: wanting more isn’t the worst complaint! 🙂
My favourite of the lot is Peter Hamilton’s Sonnie’s Union, in which humans can pilot fearsome biomech units – a bit Avatar, a bit Real Steel, all brought together perfectly. I was amused by what I assume is an in-joke, having the baddy a Welshman called Alastair (Reynolds?) 😉 I also very much liked Fairy Tales for Robots, which briefly looks at a dozen familiar stories and points out the ‘robot-ness’ of them.
There’s a huge variety of approaches taken across the sixteen tales. From the light-hearted ice-skating robot, to the extremely dark, including mistreated child robots, the horror of video surveillance from the watcher’s point of view, and even a take on religion – wasn’t entirely sure about that last one, tbh, might skirt a little close to … something ‘hmm’.
Different tales are told from the robot/AI’s POV, or a human’s, and there’s even a second-person POV that feels like a video game, with a very dark twist.
Overall, it’s a fun and intriguing mix. As I said, perhaps a little frustrating to only get little slivers of the better stories, and if I’m being honest not many really jumped out and wowed me, but still a decent collection and worth dipping into.
Collection curated by Jonathan Strahan, containing:
- A Glossary of Radicalization – Brooke Bolander
- Dancing with Death – John Chu
- Brother Rifle – Daryl Gregory
- Sonnie’s Union – Peter F Hamilton
- The Endless – Saad Z Hossain
- An Elephant Never Forgets – Rich Larson
- Idols – Ken Liu
- Sin Eater – Ian R MacLeod
- The Translator – Annalee Newitz
- The Hurt Pattern – Tochi Onyebuchi
- Chiaroscuro in Red – Suzanne Palmer
- Bigger Fish – Sarah Pinkster
- A Guide for Working Breeds – Vina Jie-Min Prasad
- Polished Performance – Alastair Reynolds
- Fairy Tales for Robots – Sofia Samatar
- Test 4 Echo – Peter Watts
NetGalley eARC: 273 pages / 16 short stories
First published: 2020
Read from 22nd February – 15th March 2020
My rating: 7/10